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Report – Law Enforcement Use of Cell-Site Simulation Technologies: Privacy Concerns and Recommendations

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform U.S. House of Representatives 114th Congress – Law Enforcement Use of Cell-Site Simulation Technologies: Privacy Concerns and Recommendations. Committee Staff Report. Hon. Jason Chaffetz, Chairman; Hon. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member; Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. December 19, 2016.
“…During the course of the investigation, it became clear that the use of cell-site simulators by state and local law enforcement agencies was not governed by any uniform standards or policies. In an effort to determine how widespread this problem was, the Committee identified four cities of varying sizes and crime rates, along with two states, for the purpose of ascertaining the number and type of cell-site simulators in use, as well as the policies that were employed for their use. In particular, the Committee sent letters to the police departments in Washington, D.C.; Alexandria, Virginia; Sunrise, Florida; Baltimore, Maryland; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; and the Virginia State Police,requesting among other things, information regarding the number, the funding, and the use of these devices at the state and local level…Cell-site simulators are devices that effectively transform a cell phone into a real time tracking device. A cell-site simulator—also known as an “IMSI catcher” — is a device that mimics a cell phone tower. These devices are commonly referred to as “Stingrays,” which is both a generic name and also refers to a specific type of IMSI catcher that is manufactured by the Harris Corporation. When the device is activated, cell phones in the surrounding area connect to the device in a similar way that the cell phones would connect to a cell tower. Once a phone connects to the cell-site simulator, the device is capable of obtaining specific identifying information for the phone, including information that enables law enforcement to determine the location of the phone and, more importantly, its user.  The devices were initially designed for the military, but were later adapted for domestic law enforcement. Law enforcement agencies usually operate them from moving vehicles or, to a lesser extent, from airplanes. Over the past five years, DOJ and DHS combined to spend approximately $95 million to acquire various types of cell-site simulators. Additionally, DHS has provided more than $1.8 million in grant money to state and local law enforcement to purchase cell-site simulators….”

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